As we have discussed in class, the online world offers a platform where the everyday man can voice his or her opinions. One of the most prominent platforms are online forums, or Blogs. Blogs allow for any likeminded people to come together over a number of issues, the most popular of these issues is religion. An example of this type of religious online forum is “http://www.hashkafah.com/” On this website, viewers are allowed to voice their thoughts and opinions on matters concerning Jewish fundamentals from philosophies, the Torah, and even to issues concerning marriage.
Since these types of online blogs are a space where anyone can voice a thought and gain followers, blogs create what we have discussed as a, “flattening of hierarchy.” This means that offline religious authorities, such as a Priest, or Pastor, in the church are competing with online authors who have gained followers and popularity regardless of formal training. It is important to define what constitutes authority especially when considering these online contexts. As Pauline Cheong discusses, authority, when concerning the Internet, can be looked at in terms of two assumptions. The first assumption Cheong makes is that religious authority is being destroyed by religious online activities, such as blogs, which pose a definite problem for religious communities. The second assumption is that online practices are sustaining offline religious authority by reiterating and supporting the traditional views of authority.
Blogs however are unique; they can be looked at as relating to both assumptions. Depending on the theme of the blog, it can either be looked at as a place that supports offline authority, by offering a space which supplements traditional offline practices, or a blog can be a space that challenges authority by offering new ideas that go in the opposite direction of existing offline beliefs. Cheong describes this paradox as being “dual logics” explained through a “dialectical perspective”, which means that, “he logic of dialectics on religious authority would imply understanding the management of conflicting tensions, uneven gains, multiple opportunities, ambivalences and challenges that new media users like religious leaders face within their online and offline experiences” (Cheong, p. 20). Religious blogs are double edge swords that can be useful or harmful, depending on the context, either reiterating or undermining offline religious authority.
Cheong, P.H., Fischer-Nielsen, P., Gelfgren, S., and Ess, C. (eds) (Forthcoming, 2012)
Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices, Futures, New York:
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Licensed to: Hashkafah.com